If you own or manage a property, you know that at least part of your rental income needs to be reinvested into the home, condo, or apartment on a regular basis. Maintenance, upkeep, and replacing things is just part of property ownership. However, there’s an entirely separate class of property issues that not only pose a threat to your property but can also lead to significant repair costs and the loss of months of rental income. In this article, we’ll review some of the most expensive rental repairs—and the best ways to potentially avoid them altogether.
1. Foundation or structural damage
Any damage to the foundation or structure of the property would not be easy to deal with. Not only can these repairs be incredibly costly, but—in situations where the property wouldn't be any longer safe or habitable—you would likely be losing out on income from the property while addressing repairs.
Foundation problems have a number of root causes, ranging from poor soil quality or plumbing leaks to literal tree roots. If your tenants are noting issues with the soil around the property, water leaks, cracks in the foundation or flooring, or other issues, take them seriously and send a professional out to investigate.
Termite infestations are one of the most common causes of structural damage. Termites are a major problem for property managers: your tenants may not be as vigilant in looking out for termites or termite damage as a homeowner would be, which means an infestation can take hold without you knowing about it. Our recommendation is that you schedule regular termite inspections for your property, especially in periods where you might be between renters. Termites do not need a long time to cause significant property damage, so early detection and treatment is key.
2. Replacing your HVAC systems
For a property owner, replacing a cooling or heating system is a major expense that can eat into a significant portion of that year’s rental income. Thankfully, most furnaces and air conditioners last 15-20 years, which means you will probably only need to replace the system once or twice. However, as with every other aspect of the property, forgoing maintenance or needed repairs can lead to significant problems.
So, what can you do as a property manager to avoid needing to prematurely replace your HVAC systems? Here’s a few places to start:
- Make Energy-Efficient Upgrades: Many property owners see energy bills as the responsibility of the tenant. While that’s true, better efficiency also reduces the overall wear-and-tear on the HVAC systems. By sealing ducts, adding insulation, and caulking around windows and doors, you can help extend the lifespan of these systems while also making the property more livable for the renter. That’s a win-win.
- Schedule Regular Tune-Ups: Have a professional HVAC technician out to perform seasonal maintenance on your cooling and heating systems. A professional-grade tune-up not only helps reduce the frequency of breakdowns but can also help your system last longer and run better as it ages.
- Make Recommended Repairs: Ultimately, you just don’t win if you procrastinate on needed HVAC repairs. Not only do you expose your HVAC systems to future problems, but you could also give your tenant grounds—depending on the part of the country you live in and local laws—to get out of the lease after a certain period of time. Be proactive, be communicative, and stay on top of HVAC system repairs.
3. Fixing a sewer line (or cleaning up damage from a sewer backup)
Some tenants aren’t going to treat your property like you would treat your own home. Often, out of either ignorance or laziness, many renters will treat the property’s sewer line or septic system poorly. In the kitchen, this means pouring grease, oils, and clogging waste such as coffee grounds down the drain. In the bathroom, this can include the improper disposal of non-organic waste and trash. The end result is the same: eventually, given enough time, your property is going to experience sewer line issues.
How do you prevent this from happening? First, you can work to eliminate other, non-renter causes of sewer line clogs and damage. This includes tree roots or ground damage that can negatively impact the line. Next, we recommend talking to your renter about the need for mutual care of the sewer line and proper waste disposal. After all, a sewer line clog and sewer backup puts their belongings at serious risk, as well.
If you have an older property, or have reason to believe your sewer line might be compromised, also consider scheduling a sewer line inspection with a trusted plumber in your area. Using a snake tool camera, the plumber can look through the line to identify any partial blockages that pose a threat.
4. Escalating roof problems
Given that they are completely exposed to the elements every day of the year, it’s no surprise that roofs experience their fair share of wear-and-tear. However, many property managers make the mistake of underestimating roofing problems, putting off needed repairs and upkeep “for one more month.” What started as a few missing tiles or shingles soon becomes a full-blown leak inside the house and a major headache for the owner. Roof leaks can compromise the structure of the home, lead to the growth of mold and mildew, and—in many cases—give your renters legal grounds to vacate the lease and the property.
The best way to avoid roofing problems is by properly maintaining your roof. Have the roof regularly inspected by a trained roofing professional, and quickly address any issues they identify during their review. Clean out the gutters on your building to ensure that snowmelt and rainwater do not accumulate on the roof, and visually check the flashing to ensure that everything remains in place.
If you do have a leak in your property, have a professional address it quickly. Leaks never go away on their own, and many of the problems caused by leaks—including structural deterioration and mold—are only aided by your procrastination. In other words, be proactive in protecting your investment.
Protect your investment
Not every property issue can be prevented, and every property owner or manager is eventually going to be faced with a significant repair or replacement cost that cuts into their income. However, with timely action and preventative maintenance, you can help your property avoid many major issues and keep large expenses to a minimum. This means happier renters, reduced overhead, and fewer headaches for you as a landlord.
Victoria Reimer is the communications director and senior writer at Reimer Home Services, a professional home repair & HVAC company servicing Western New York. She has been working within the home repair industry for almost 15 years and enjoys sharing her insights on home repairs with homeowners and real estate professionals. At Reimer, we understand that being invited into a customer’s home to perform a service is a privilege, and we take this responsibility very seriously.